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Garodnick Bill Would Give Transit Riders a Tax Break

A City Council bill from Dan Garodnick could save a lot of transit riders a nice chunk of change.

Hundreds of thousands of NYC commuters could save $443 a year by buying a monthly MetroCard with pre-tax dollars. Photo:##https://www.flickr.com/photos/36217981@N02/5460212022/in/photolist-9jv1NA-bDQkXm-bWoBRH-dwvtkn-9K5XbZ-7FUuE-5XKoqA-jFDLr9-5S4TWT-5SkBj3-4g2GLm-8m3q1D-dwvv2e-4Ea5iS-e32iSn-617i6v-7Hucq1-5SzRcs-bXdFu6-5SHxsX-diocNN-5S9f37-5SwWRW-4TesNy-4kEKU3-5TTjiV-9PgYp6-pxmEh-5S9f1L-82TkQ3-dbLJRp-e32iun-e32iC2-e37ZKY-e32iMc-e3811N-4T9hkr-7LLc2L-fwqqCg-9yhssj-fwEH7Y-o4GnR-dbLLxC-68EQcr-dyxMPa-e3819q-5QXy5T-5QwG7h-6nTYHQ-5QAB8N##Tim Adama/Flickr##

Hundreds of thousands of NYC commuters could save $443 a year by buying a monthly MetroCard with pre-tax dollars. Photo: Tim Adams/Flickr

Federal law lets commuters spend up to $130 in tax-free income a month on transit fares. For a New Yorker earning an average wage, buying a monthly MetroCard with pre-tax dollars adds up to $443 in annual savings, according to Riders Alliance, which issued a report backing the benefit. But it’s only available through employers who offer the program.

Garodnick’s bill would require companies with a staff of 20 or more to make the benefit available to employees. The bill would make the benefit available to 605,000 New Yorkers, and commuters who work in the city but live elsewhere can also sign up. 

Garodnick was joined by council colleagues Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal, along with Riders Alliance, at a Sunday presser announcing the measure.

“It’s not just a savings for employees, but for the employers themselves,” said Garodnick. “Dollars come out before they pay their payroll taxes for their employees.” The Riders Alliance report says companies that offer the program can save $103 per year per participating employee.

Riders Alliance estimates that the benefit would reduce city and state tax revenues by at least $6 million and $10 million, respectively. However, the report says, “not only would tens of millions of dollars be saved each year by New Yorkers, but it would also enter the economy in a way that directly encourages increased use of — and spending toward — public transit.”

With the lower tax burden, transit riders would collectively have $85 million to inject into the local economy, the report notes.

“Fares keep going up and this is something the city can do to help riders save money,” said John Raskin, Riders Alliance executive director.

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Trottenberg: The Goal Is to Roll Out 13 New SBS Routes in Four Years

It’s been a big week for buses. Public meetings kicked off for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, signs of SBS are starting to crop up on 125th Street, and news broke that bus lanes are coming to Utica Avenue. After Wednesday’s infrastructure forum, I caught up with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to discuss the de Blasio administration’s commitment to speed up bus service citywide.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says New Yorkers should expect 13 more Select Bus Service routes in the next four years. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Trottenberg says she plans to paint the town — or 13 bus routes, at least — red. Photo: MTA/Flickr

During the campaign, de Blasio promised “to phase in the creation of a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 lines.”

Trottenberg said the goal of 20 lines includes existing SBS routes. “The mayor has committed to, in his first term, 20 SBS routes altogether. 125th Street will be number seven, and we’re going to try to do 13 on top of that,” she said.

That’s not quite 20 new full-fledged BRT lines, but 13 routes in four years is a big step up from the current rate of approximately one new SBS route each year.

Select Bus Service includes a number of components to speed bus trips. DOT and the MTA have implemented some of these, like limited-stop service, bus lanes, and transit signal priority, outside of the SBS program. Other upgrades, such as having riders pay at a machine before boarding, are restricted to SBS routes.

Off-board fare collection is unlikely to expand beyond the SBS program anytime soon. Echoing comments made by MTA Chair Tom Prendergast last year, Trottenberg said widespread deployment of fare machines will likely be on hold until at least 2019, when the MTA is scheduled to implement the long-delayed replacement for the MetroCard.

The MTA says each off-board ticket machine costs $25,000, not including installation and maintenance. “We’re trying to be smart,” Trottenberg said. “You don’t want to invest in too many new machines that then maybe we’re going to have to change.”

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As SBS Sprouts on 125th, Levine Says Bus Lanes Could Extend West This Fall

Off-board fare machines have been installed along 125th Street, here at Madison Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

After an on-again, off-again struggle, Select Bus Service on 125th Street is now close to launching. Off-board fare payment machines have been installed, but not yet turned on, for M60 riders. Next up is striping for dedicated bus lanes, which were scaled back after opposition from elected officials. Now, a glimmer of hope: Council Member Mark Levine says West Harlem could get its bus lanes as soon as this fall.

The bus-only lanes were initially slated to run between Morningside and Second Avenues, but the western half was cut off at Lenox Avenue after local elected officials, led by State Senator Bill Perkins, protested. Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who represent West Harlem, have pressed DOT to revive the original plan. Espaillat’s office said today that it hopes the popularity of SBS once it starts service will build momentum for completing the bus lanes. Levine’s office said it has been meeting with “all the parties involved” and hopes the bus lanes will be extended west by this fall.

Unlike most other SBS routes, bus lanes on 125th Street will not be camera-enforced. The state legislation allowing bus lane cameras restricts them to six routes: Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Hylan Boulevard, 34th Street, Nostrand Avenue, and an undesignated route in Queens. (The borough’s first SBS route, being planned now, is slated for Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards.) It’s up to NYPD precincts to keep drivers out of bus lanes along Webster Avenue, 125th Street, and anywhere else the city sets aside street space for buses.

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Transit Union and Sierra Club Join Forces for Earth Day and Beyond

Earth Day is a week from tomorrow. How many people will drive to their local environmental festival without even a second thought to how they got there?

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: ##http://www.carnewschina.com/page/701/##Car News China##

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: Car News China

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Sierra Club will announce tomorrow that they are joining forces to highlight the connection between transportation and climate change.

Transit is important, “not only to people who ride it but also to everybody who breathes oxygen in the world,” said ATU President Larry Hanley. That’s why the union is strengthening its coordination with the Sierra Club.

“They completely get the importance of mass transit,” he said. “It’s just that we haven’t found ways to formalize our public relationship in the past. That’s what we’re going to do now.”

Transit advocates, including the ATU, have been working to advance the full range of arguments for transit with the Transit Is Greater campaign. The ATU’s new “Transit > Pollution” leaflet [PDF] is all ready to be rolled out at bus stops and train stations around the U.S. and Canada, where the union will be encouraging riders to become more active in the push for better transit. They’ll also be doing climate-themed events with the Sierra Club in May, and beyond that with events they’re calling “Transit Tuesdays.

“We’re working with elected officials and candidates for public office to get out and ride transit with us, to organize riders to contact Congress for a better transit bill,” Hanley said, referring to the pending reauthorization of the MAP-21 transportation bill. They’re also planning a rally May 20 on Capitol Hill, after which members of the ATU and the Transport Workers Union will visit Congressional offices. Sierra Club locals and other community groups from around the country will support that event with phone calls to their representatives.

While initially timed around Earth Day, the partnership launch also coincides with a spike of interest in climate change following the release of a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. “Climate change, to those of us who don’t believe in voodoo but believe in science, is a real serious concern,” Hanley said. “We’re watching polar ice caps melt at the same time that our Congress has turned its back on the things that could slow that down — like mass transit.”

Even many lawmakers concerned about environmental issues don’t pay enough attention to the power of transit to allay climate change, said Hanley. “That’s really the whole point of what we’re doing in May and throughout 2014,” he said. “We’re going to remind the ones who should know and alert the ones who don’t about the value of mass transit.”

According to the IPCC report, emissions from transportation could rise by 71 percent from 2010 levels by 2050, while the scientific consensus holds that the world needs to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by then. The transportation sector is projected to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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When Will Select Bus Service Get Its Flashing Lights Back?

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the program included blue flashing lights on the front of each bus to help riders distinguish the service from local buses. This is particularly important for Select Bus Service, since most SBS routes require riders to pay their fare at a machine before boarding. The flashing lights help riders know whether they’re boarding an SBS bus, with its special payment system, or a local bus.

The lights have been turned off since last January, thanks to Staten Island legislators. This year, bills to restore the lights have been stuck in committee in Albany, though Manhattan Community Board 6 is trying to generate some momentum with a resolution in support of the lights.

A bus at the 2008 launch event for the city’s first Select Bus Service line, with flashing blue lights. Photo: Brad Aaron

When SBS expanded to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard in 2012, Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who badgered the city into watering down the Hylan route until it no longer included median bus lanes, began complaining about the lights, claiming that drivers could get confused between a bus and an emergency vehicle. Citing a state law that reserves the use of flashing blue lights for emergency vehicles, Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza got the MTA to shut the lights off in January 2013.

Seeking a solution, legislators in Albany drafted a bill to bring the lights back after the DMV designated purple as the only option for the buses. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner even crafted their bills to exclude the Hylan SBS route, the only one in the city without pay-before-boarding fare machines.

Lanza and Ignizio scoffed. “At first I thought they were joking,” Lanza told the Times. “This is the best you come back with? Flashing purple?” The bill failed to clear committees in either chamber last year. “You don’t need a flashing light,” Lanza told MTA chairman Tom Prendergast at his confirmation hearing last June.

Representatives of other areas with Select Bus Service think otherwise. Last year, Council Members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito sent a letter to the MTA urging for the lights to return. Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution asking the state legislature to bring back the blue lights.

On Monday, CB 6′s transportation committee advanced another resolution asking the legislature to pass a bill allowing purple lights. The resolution passed the full board yesterday [PDF]. The Klein and Kellner bills were reintroduced in January, but haven’t advanced passed committee. Will Albany take this small, painless step to make life less stressful for bus riders?

This post has been modified to correctly characterize the resolutions passed by CB 6.

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Long Arm of the Koch Brothers Extends to Nashville to Slap Down Transit

Fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch are meddling in local Nashville transit politics. Image: screenshot from the “Koch Brothers Exposed” trailer, via Salon

On Tuesday, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that he might do away with dedicated transit lanes on two stretches of the Amp, the proposed seven-mile bus rapid transit line that could set an important precedent for the car-centric city. Dean is the main political backer of the project, so the fact that he’s buckling says something about the mounting pressure to water down or kill the Amp. And that pressure isn’t going to let up any time soon, because Dean and other supporters of effective transit in Nashville are up against opponents with very deep pockets.

Until recently, the anti-transit campaign in Nashville — organized under the umbrella of a group called Stop AMP — seemed like garden variety NIMBYism. Some nearby residents don’t want to transfer any street space from cars to buses, and they had a fitting ringleader in local car dealer Lee Beaman. But when the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill that would ban transit lanes, that raised some eyebrows.

Where did Stop AMP get the muscle to move a bill through the State Senate? “Concerned citizens writing us checks for $100 here, $200 there,” Richard Fulton of Stop AMP told Streetsblog. Fulton is the son of former Nashville mayor and Tennessee state senator Dick Fulton.

Yup, $100 checks — and oh right, a lobbyist paid by the Koch brothers, billionaire funders of the Tea Party movement and smart growth paranoia everywhere. “They do have a lobbyist that has been assisting us and helping lobby but mainly because he’s a citizen of Nashville and against the Amp,” Fulton admitted.

Americans for Prosperity, the most illustrious of the political organizations financed by Charles and David Koch, has a new chapter in Tennessee. It’s just nine months old but with the State Senate vote it already has a big win under its belt.

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Will de Blasio Make Good on His Pledge to Build Great Bus Rapid Transit?

During his campaign for mayor, Bill de Blasio called for the creation of a citywide, “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit network consisting of at least 20 routes. These new routes would provide a crucial link for communities beyond the reach of subways and speed trips that are poorly served by the city’s Manhattan-centric rail system.

Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/61135621@N03/10930906743/in/photolist-hDVKKn-hDVKQ2-hDVKJR-hDV4r7-hDVL2K-hDV4d1-hDUmsp-hDV4HE-hDVL3r-hDVKwX-f1oBUU-f1oBKY-byEi8c-bDQkXm-bDQm73-deteve-detdRd-7C9G1Q-dwvtyZ-dwvtG2-aZLEg6-8BGt6h-fsrcaf-bzRdWF-br2R68-ga79rs-ga72Uv-ga76tL-im8tYQ-9cWWhF-842X7k-dbhDNz-iAhMCg-dR7Fb5-f19hpM-f1oBSA-f1oBQf-f19hkg-f19haD-f19hkz-8EYxLP-detcU5-bSK3sg-bDQmdW-fC42nb-fBNERP-9KE38J-daxWUc-9UJNum-br2KDF-br2PpP##MTA/Flickr##

Photo: MTA/Flickr

Now that he is mayor, de Blasio will have to build out new routes much more rapidly than his predecessor if he is to keep his campaign promise.

While de Blasio has not offered a timetable for completing the rapid bus network, it took the Bloomberg administration approximately six years to build the city’s first six Select Bus Service routes.

“It’s possible to pick up the pace,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “The constraint is staffing.”

The Department of Transportation will likely need more planners and community liaisons in order to work on multiple projects at the same time.

“If you have one team working on planning for SBS, you can get one route done per year. If you have two teams you can get two routes done, and so on,” says Byron.

One key challenge for de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will be to accelerate the public engagement process while following through on his campaign language about “extending [outreach] beyond the community board.” As public advocate, de Blasio criticized Bloomberg and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan for moving too fast on major street redesigns. Now that he’s mayor, he will likely have to contend with the opposition that has met previous SBS projects.

It’s not impossible to imagine that future Select Bus Service routes will encounter less friction than before. SBS is now up and running successfully in several neighborhoods, and the concept is no longer new and alien to residents and community boards. There is a clear record of success.

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What Transit Riders Could Get If Cuomo’s Transit Raid Doesn’t Go Through

How much transit service could the MTA add if Governor Cuomo’s proposed $40 million transit raid doesn’t make Albany’s final budget? Here’s a taste, courtesy of the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance.

Photo: Wikipedia

Service that was cut from seven subway lines in 2010, serving 300,000 weekday riders, could be restored. More than a dozen weekday bus routes could be added across the five boroughs, plus weekend service for more than a dozen other routes. The LIRR could run more trains and MetroNorth could add cars.

It would all add up to quicker commutes, less crowding, and more freedom for New Yorkers to get around without a car.

Straphangers and the Riders Alliance based the potential service restorations and additions on the MTA’s estimates of cost savings achieved with the 2010 service cuts.

In their budget proposals, both the Assembly and the State Senate rejected the $40 million transit raid in the governor’s executive budget. The issue is expected to be decided during final negotiations this week between the legislature and Cuomo.

The Cuomo camp has tried to diminish the significance of the raid, which would compel the MTA to pay off bonds for capital projects that the state had previously promised to cover. The advocates’ list of foregone service helps bring home the point that there is in fact a very real cost whenever Albany decides to divert revenue from transit.

Here’s the full list of service that $40 million could buy, according to Straphangers and the Riders Alliance:

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With Ridership on the Rise, Will Congress Step Up and Invest in Transit?

Yesterday the American Public Transportation Association reported that Americans made more transit trips in 2013 than in any other year since 1956. Of course, per capita ridership is still low compared to the 1950s, and we’re nowhere near the ridership peaks of the 1940s. But when transit trips increase 1.1 percent while population rises 0.7 percent, you know change is afoot.

Transit expansions, like LA's expo line, which opened in 2012, helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##

Transit expansions, like LA’s expo line, which opened in 2012, have helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: The Source

APTA, which is meeting in Washington this week for its legislative conference, has some ideas about how to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

It goes a little something like this: Pass a transportation bill. Make it a six-year bill — not a measly two years like the current MAP-21 bill. Raise the gas tax, pass a VMT fee, do whatever you need to do to provide a steady funding source. And then invest $100.4 billion over the next six years in transit.

This year, transit got $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund and another $2.1 billion from the general fund — mostly for New Starts capital grants — for a combined total of $10.7 billion. APTA wants to see that number grow to $12.1 billion in 2015 and $22.2 billion in 2020.

While APTA’s proposal would mark a major improvement, it’s not as big a jump as President Obama envisions. The White House budget proposal would bring transit funding up to $17.6 billion in 2015 — which APTA doesn’t call for until 2018. APTA would have funding grow more incrementally over time, while Obama envisions a big increase next year and then stability.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced yesterday that the administration would submit a transportation bill proposal to Congress, which it has not done previously.

While APTA is pushing for a six-year bill, the administration has rolled out a four-year bill, because that’s what its proposed funding method will support. Foxx told transit agency officials assembled for the APTA conference yesterday that he empathized with the need for long-term legislation.

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